Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saint Frances, Chapter II

My last post expanded on the memories I have of my father, Tony. It seems only fair to give Mom equal time. I wrote briefly about her on 10/2/08 (see View "Saint Frances"), but wanted you to know her a little better. I referred to her as Saint Frances because to me she epitomized goodness. She didn’t go around making a show of helping others; it was just in her nature. In moving through life, she gave everybody consideration before she thought about her own wants and needs. She went out of her way to see the good in people. If you asked her: “Fran, what do you think about Hitler?” my mother’s reply would probably be: “I hear he was a good dancer!”

Like all good Saints, her life was not easy. She hated asking for help, and would personally do any job that needed doing, even if it meant less sleep or time for herself. I can’t remember her ever sitting down with a book. When television came into our home, she indulged herself by watching a few of her favorite shows. Fran loved to laugh, and would look forward to The Jack Benny Show, I Love Lucy, and The Danny Thomas Show. We would usually watch with her. Sitting on that couch laughing together was a simple act; who could have imagined it would bring back such warm memories.

Fran was “Alice Kramden” to my father’s Ralph. My Dad’s pet name for her was “Killjoy” because she often had to rain on some of his more impulsive schemes. Like Ralph, my father was always on the lookout for a tip on a hot stock or a fast horse. Of course, the minute Tony got on board, the stock cooled and the horse died! Mom did not enjoy this role, but soon realized that somebody in the family had to show some common sense. Tony teased her mercilessly about all the things she would not let him do, but probably if not for her squirreling away some secret cash, the bills would have gone unpaid.

Mom was the quintessential Italian mother without the negatives. She never tried “guilting” us into doing something; we knew this, and somehow her restraint caused us to do exactly as she wanted. She could take scraps of food normally thrown away and whip them into a meal to die for. Without being told, she knew when we were hurting. She wouldn’t speak directly to us about our problems; that wasn't her way. She would just make herself available to us in a quiet moment, and we would blurt out whatever was on our minds.

She never worked at a “job” until late in her life. God knows caring for three kids (four if you count my father) and also my grandmother Lucia (don’t ask) was enough of a job for anyone. I guess the extra money came in handy. I think just as important to Mom though was to feel needed. With her children grown, she got a job in a school cafeteria and really enjoyed going to work. She liked being around kids again. She also volunteered at a local nursing home. I had occasion to talk to the director of the home years after my mother worked there. She remarked that she remembered my mother well, and said she was one of the best volunteers they ever had. I can't say I was surprised.

Regretably, I did some dumb things growing up. I can imagine my poor mother making countless novenas praying for her directionless son. I think she would have been happy if I got a steady job selling tube socks out of my car trunk. When I finally straightened out, got a real job, and married my wife Jasmine (who my mother adored), probably no one was more surprised or pleased than Fran. The three grandchildren were a bonus; Mom doted on them and loved watching them grow up. To show you the type of person she was, whenever one of them had a birthday, Fran would always buy the other two a small gift so they wouldn’t feel left out of the celebration.

In the “me first” world we inhabit today, Saint Frances would stand out like a sore thumb. She always saw the glass half-full, made lemons into lemonade, and made you feel like there was no hurt in the world that in her quiet way, she couldn’t somehow make a little better. As if being the very soul of goodness on the inside wasn't enough, you can tell from the photo of her as a young girl that she was beautiful as well. Saint Frances was quite the complete package. I only wish I could have grown up to be more like her.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Jim, Nice tribute to your Mom. But you did grow up being like her! Do you ever hear her in what you say? I know how you feel, Your Mom used Novenas, mine used novenas and a wooden spoon!
Great blog.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks Joe, maybe you're right about them living on in us. I think we sometimes take our parents a bit for granted, not fully understanding what they've done for us until we get older. I hope they have the Internet in Heaven so Mom and Dad can read these posts. (My mother used a wooden spoon like a Ninja!)